Roses are Weeds (Sometimes)

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You know what you call a rose growing in an undesired location?  A weed.  Even the most beautiful plant placed in spot where it’s not wanted becomes eyesore or a potential problem.  When picking out plants for a particular space there are five filters, or five questions you should always ask.  These five filters I’ve created should always be asked in the right order to ensure you don’t turn your roses into weeds.  Think of these filters as an inverted pyramid:

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1.Sustainability: Will this particular plant last in this particular location?  Is there enough sun?  Or too much?  Too dry?  Too wet?  Too hot?  Too cold?  Are there enough nutrients in the soil?  Any of these issues could make growing the plant of your choice unsustainable.

2.Dimension: Will this particular plant fit in the desired space?  Keep in mind the full maturity of the plant.  Homeowners and even landscapers commonly put plants in the ground that look beautiful on day 1, but in a matter of months or years the plants have outgrown the space by a long shot.

3.Functionality: What is the function of the plant? Are you looking for ground cover? Privacy? Fruit? Make sure the plant flowers when you desire if you want cut flowers. Make sure it keeps its leaves if you want year-round privacy.  If you want a hedge, make sure the plant can be trimmed into the correct shape.

Laurel hedge

Stone and thyme path (photo via Country Living)

4.Texture: Most gardeners tend to flip-flop #4 and #5.  Typically people are concerned more about the color of a plant or its flowers than with the texture.  Texture could come in the form of leaves, branches, flowers, berries, or fruit, but most often it’s a combination.

Textured succulent gardens (photo by Deborah Lee Baldwin)

Pink Muhly Grass provides and excellent example of texture in the garden

5.Color: Yes, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, color! Everyone wants color in their garden, right?  Except for green, no one wants green.  Only in the world of gardening does the color green get such little respect.  But how many beautiful shades and textures of green there are! That’s why I put color as the last decision making filter in the pyramid.  I would hardly ever sacrifice texture for color, and never functionality, dimension, or sustainability.

Are You a Gardener?

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I’m convinced there’s a garden designer inside of each of us – just like there’s a writer,  an artist, a fashionista, and a philosopher.  If you have a story or a perspective you qualify to design your own garden or landscape.  All you need is a little bit of knowledge to bring it out.  And, in the words of the illustrious Jim Rome: “Have a take, don’t suck.”

Photo by William Vanderson

So where do you start? Like most design, the best place to start is inspiration.  Read a book.  Flip through a magazine.  Browse on Pinterest.  Keep your eyes open as you drive through the neighborhood or around town.  Visiting the local botanical gardens is a great place to get ideas, especially here in Nashville where we have a place like Cheekwood.   My favorite way to get inspired is to walk around a local garden center.  When I stroll through Hewitt’s Garden and Design Center in Franklin, TN I always see plants I hadn’t thought of and pairings that I would have never put together.  Big box store garden centers can be helpful, but most are lacking in quality and innovation.  Try to find a nursery that only sells locally.

It will probably feel like piracy at first, just cutting and pasting other people’s ideas into your own landscape, and that’s ok when you’re just getting started.  Coloring books are fun when you’re a kid, and just seeing a color appear when you put the crayon to the paper is exhilarating.  But, as you expose yourself to a wide variety of designs and ideas and perspectives, you’ll figure out what moves you and develop your own voice as a designer.  That’s when the fun begins.  Instead of filling in the pictures drawn for you, you’ll venture outside the lines and off the page, to wherever your spirit leads you.

Not all inspiration is aesthetic.  Typically there will be some utilitarian function for your garden: food, shade, drainage, wildlife, etc.  Functionality, however, should never quench inspiration, it should simply provide a framework for it.  Find creative, beautiful ways to solve problems and you’ll add value to what may seem cheap.

Technical knowledge is vital for great design and a thriving garden, and that will come, but without inspiration it’s robbed of its value.